I Shall Rewrite the Stars
Tonight, I shall meet my end.
It’s said that when a child of royal birth reaches the age of eighteen, the age of adulthood, they leave their previous self behind to become the person fate destined them to be. But I already know what the stars have planned for me.
I am the eldest daughter of the great Pharaoh Cleo Philothea and the revered Pharaoh Antonius Marcellus, rulers of the ancient desert kingdom Kemet. From my birth, I have been destined to wed a foreign king and rule loyally over a vessel nation under my parents’ sovereign protection.
I am fated to be a devoted wife, perhaps a mother, and undoubtedly a wise queen. I know this as surely as I know myself to be blessed as a daughter of Kemet.
“Selene, pay attention,” Helios, my twin, says from beside me.
He stands a head taller, his body thin but hard with muscles earned from long hours of training, though the pudge in his tanned cheeks is that of a child. He looks strange with his dark brown curls, for boys’ heads are shaved, and I’ve yet to get used to seeing him with hair.
Large, hazel eyes narrow, his lips pulled to the side in an annoyed frown, and his hand waves in front of me.
“I’m just fine,” I say, lifting my head a bit higher, breathless at the feel of my long, brown hair flowing freely against the exposed skin of my back. “You’re the one who should pay attention. You’re about to walk into another vase.”
Helios jumps back, seconds from slamming into one of the wide, white vases that line the hall between the soaring pillars of the Thebus Temple.
“Why didn’t you warn me sooner?” Helios demands, rushing around the vase to rejoin me.
I clasp my hands over the long, jade sash at my waist, my eyes glued to the hieroglyphs painted in gold and greens and blues upon the ceiling. They tell a story of our ancestors; great spirits who descended from the heavens to lead Kemet in eternal glory among the nations of the world.
“We will begin our journey to adulthood with the sunset, and be made anew with the dawn. Don’t you think it’s time for you to mature and notice such things on your own?”
When I look to Helios, his eyes have narrowed again. Despite his bravado as a soon-to-be man, he’s still my younger brother- still the child who clings to my hand when we’re presented before the nobles; still the boy who cowers in my arms, when the night sky heaves roars of thunder from the distant swells of the Medi Sea.
So I smile. “I will always be your elder sister, so I will always watch out for you. There’s no need to pout, Heli. I was just teasing you a bit.”
He tsks, the short sleeves of his tunic scrunching to his shoulders as he crosses his arms behind his neck. “They let you wear your hair down for an hour and suddenly you think you’re as grown as Mother.”
I snicker under my breath. “Not nearly as grown as her, but closer with every step.”
For a long moment, the only sound between us is the slap of our sandals against the white marble path, which leads toward the sanctuary. There our family will receive us, wishing us well, before the priests send us off to meet with the high spirits, who will bestow their blessings
“Aren’t you nervous even a little?” Helios asks in a whisper, when the massive doors to the sanctuary come into view.
In truth, the feeling of power radiating from behind the doors, does make my heart beat faster. The golden hieroglyphs upon the door tell a mighty warning, barring any save for the chosen few of the royal family from entering. A curse upon any fool brazen enough to dare enter uninvited.
“Cearion received his blessing three years ago, and came out just fine. This will go no different for the two of us.”
“We might come out with sea green hair and dung brown eyes!”
“Or hair golden as the sun and eyes silver like the stars.”
“What if we look so different, none would believe we’re twins?”
I pause with Helios, mere inches from the doors. The feeling from inside is so much stronger now, flooding my senses with a lightness in my heart and a weight upon my limbs; as if I might be torn apart if I were to linger here too long.
“Let whoever dares to doubt, doubt,” I reply. “We will always bear the royal coronets as children of Kemet; will always share the same blood flowing through our veins. A similar appearance has never, will never, matter in regards to the bond we share.”
When I look at Helios, he’s smiling, his head higher and chest stuck out. He is pacified, now refocused on the ritual to come. I know he wishes to be blessed by the spirits of iron, who bestowed military might upon Father. Or the primal spirits, which blessed our elder brother Cearion with the strength and keen instinct of the world’s great beasts.
For me, I wish to receive the blessing of the sun, as Mother did, and be graced with the warmth of blinding wisdom which guides humanity forward.
The doors part then, creaking as they’re drug open in sync. Beyond, four people stand upon a white rug, ringed by the flickering shadows cast by dozens of torches lining the ancient, stone walls. Overhead, a large circle allows the smallest sliver of moon to cast its glow inside, whilst the stars twinkle all around it.
“There you are,” Mother says, stepping toward us. Head high, her blonde hair shines despite the dark, flooding to the floor where it pools at her dainty, jeweled feet. Draped in a narrow gown of fine linen, belted with a black sash embroidered with gold, Mother’s tanned skin glows, accentuating the curl of her cobra armlet, her many bangles and rings, and the large golden earrings that frame her face.
“You’re late,” Father says, his voice gruff. Just inches taller than Mother, Father’s short, gray curls frame a strong face set with orange eyes, the shade of molten iron. His tunic is white, his shoulders caped with the pelt of a fine, golden lion.
As Mother’s golden eyes turn toward him, I see a cascade of peacock feathers sweep the floor. “They are just on time. Go easy on them, if only for tonight.”
Father smiles, his face softening as it does only when his eyes are upon Mother. Then he sighs, waving his large arms out toward our brother and sister, who step closer.
“Be brave, Heli,” Cearion snickers, dressed identical to Father. His bright golden eyes watch us like a cat with its prey; his sandy brown curls bounce beneath a laurel coronet. “It’ll only hurt a little.”
“Don’t frighten him!” Ptolemy chides, her hazel eyes glaring when Cearion laughs, her narrow body cloaked with a long, white veil.
“We’ll be fine!” Helios declares, charging forward to meet the white-robed priests at the other side of the room.
“Best join him,” Mother says.
I nod, swallow back against the knot in my throat, and will myself to walk. When I reach Helios’ side, two priests, heads bowed so we cannot see their faces, raise their hands toward the sky.
“Fate is written in the stars,” says the one on the left, his voice creaky like the doors, which swiftly slam shut.
“All that shall pass in a lifetime, is foretold by the stars,” says the priest on the right, his voice higher.
“Happiness; success; wealth; good health.”
“Misery; failure; poverty; failed health.”
As they speak, their voices begin to rise, mingling, and the air grows cold around me. I hear Helios suck in a deep breath, before the faint crackling of thunder ripples overhead. A choking scent permeates the air, building into a dark smoke around me.
I freeze, paralyzed with fear. Did a torch fall? Is the room on fire? I open my mouth, but no sounds come out. I try to turn, to look for my brother. Instead, I find nothing but flames.
Our home, the grand palace of Alexandria, is burning. Citizens weep and scream in the streets, as foreign warriors storm through with spears raised, their chariots pouring in from the shores. Mother appears, her gaze fierce, only to grow cold as it turns back. She raises a dagger, plunges it to her chest, then crumples away. Father appears and does the same, vanishing as the tears gather in my eyes to seep down my cheeks.
The scene changes, shifting. Night turns to day, then night again; and again and again. I see Helios, Ptolemy, and myself forced onto a ship and carried across the sea to Roma. Emperor Gustavian Octus looks down mockingly, enjoying our humiliation.
Drug through the streets in a grand parade, my siblings and I stagger, unable to bear the weight of the gold chains upon our wrists and around our necks. The crowd cheers, Gustavian laughs, and we are gifted to his sister Octavia, Father’s ex-wife.
Helios and I suffer under her cruelty, Ptolemy falls ill and dies, and word soon arrives of the betrayal of Cearion’s trusted guard. My brother is dead, his body left to the vultures in a far-off desert. Mere months later, Helios takes the blame for my mistake of knocking a vase onto Octavia. She is injured, claims we made an attempt on her life, and Helios is executed because of it.
Alone, miserable, and heartbroken, I slave on, comforted only by the distant but kind friend I make in Gustavian’s slave: the dark haired, dark eyed Juba. A bitter year passes, before Gustavian summons me to a grand ball. There, he gifts my hand as a bride to Juba, who I learn is the son of a conquered land; a prize of war, just like myself.
We are sent to Romeil, formerly Numidel, Juba’s homeland, where we live as poor, would-be noble vassals to Gustavian. The days go by, and I find Juba to be a gentle, caring, and devoted husband. He honors me, as though I were the queen I had long imagined I would become, and not a pitiful woman adorned in rags.
And I love him.
I love him so dearly, so truly, and wish more than anything to feel worthy of the love he returns to me!
Five years pass in peaceful bliss, until one day we are summoned back to Roma. Gustavian, displeased by our peace, accuses us of treason. Our marriage is dissolved. Juba is ordered to re-wed and I to attend his wedding. With a sword to his throat, Juba takes the hand of a lovely young woman who is all I could never become.
And I…I am cast back to our empty home in Romeil. Languishing there, I take ill as soon as I set foot upon land. Alone, aching for my lost love, I die, and the last light of Kemet fades away-
“No!” I cry, finally finding my voice. Heaving great gasps, I claw at my hair, my wide eyes searching aimlessly for some way to stop this- some way to change whatever cruel nightmare I have seen. “It cannot be like this- our lives cannot end in such a cursed tragedy!”
‘Your fate is written,' a soft, feminine voice replies. 'The stars have-'
“The stars are not unwavering!” I cry, daring to voice blasphemy. “They fall from the heavens- they change and die!”
With a blinding blast of white, a woman appears before me. She floats, cast in a silver glow, her presence far greater than her slight, pale figure.
‘You would dare to challenge the stars? To challenge the great spirits who authored them?’
“I am a daughter of Kemet,” I reply. “Is it not my birthright as their descendent, to challenge such a terrible mistake?”
‘Mistake? The great spirits would say otherwise-’
“Then let me prove them wrong!”
The woman smiles, stepping toward me, into me, and through me. In her wake, I feel the cool comfort of a solemn night, and see the brilliant, full moon overhead.
‘You are my namesake, blessed and cherished by me,’ the woman whispers. ‘Go forth, Selene of Kemet, and challenge the high spirits. See if your mortal hands can rewrite the stars. I will support you as best I can.’
A dull, orange glow breaks the white, fading it into black and sandy brown. I hear gasps from behind, and turn to see not a nightmare, not a woman in silver, but Helios. He looks at his hands with wonder, his hair now a soft sea-green. Wide, baby blue eyes look up at me.
“You were blessed by the spirit of the sea,” I say, breathless and exhausted, my heart torn with fear of the future I saw, and joy for my radiant twin.
“You were blessed by the spirit of the moon,” he replies. “Selene, you look like the moon spirit herself.”
Confused, I look down. Long strands of silvery-white hair have replaced my brown locks. When I look up, I see silvery eyes reflected in Helios’.
“It’s been a thousand years since the moon spirit last blessed a daughter of Kemet,” Mother gasps, drawing my eyes to her.
“We must celebrate,” Father says, pulling her in close. “Tonight, we will hold a grand banquet- a feast! To honor the great spirits which have blessed our children!”
“Alright!” Cearion cheers, while Ptolemy smiles with tired eyes.
As the dawn’s light illuminates the room, a sinking feeling settles in my chest. When I look to my hands, I see a faint glow of strings- the strings of fate! And they connect not to the heavens above, but to the cross of a golden marionette bar in my left hand.
Because I, I am no longer ruled by the stars.
By the grace of the moon, I am now the author of my fate- perhaps the fate of all of Kemet. And I shall change the future; I shall rewrite the stars!
For if I do not, then all I love will be lost.